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Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Mister Pip (2006)

by Lloyd Jones

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,1071742,790 (3.81)466
On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, on which survival is a daily struggle, eccentric Mr. Watts, the only white man left after the other teachers flee, spends his day reading to the local children from Charles Dickens's classic Great Expectations.
  1. 70
    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (cbl_tn, HelenGress)
    cbl_tn: Mister Pip explores the reading and interpretation of Great Expectations in a late 20th century South Sea island culture in the midst of a civil war.
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"You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames."

Mister Pip is a short book, little more than a novella but still manages to deliver a considerable emotional impact. Set amongst a little known recent civil war this sad tale of loss, betrayal and hope is an affirmation of the power of storytelling on, in this case, a young girl's imagination.

When civil war breaks out on the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville, all those who can leave does so. Those who are left behind struggle to maintain their simple village existence in a war zone, repeatedly raided by soldiers and rebels in turn.

The book centres around Matilda, a thirteen year old girl whose father has long since left for Australia in search of employment and where she along with her mother was due to him before the escalating fighting made that impossible. With the school closed Matilda and all the other village children struggle to fill their free time and ignore the dangerous situation they are all trapped in until one day an unlikely source volunteers to reopen the school and teach them.

His name was Mr Watts but the villagers called him ‘Pop Eye’ for the way his eyes bulged out of his head. He is also the last white man on the island. Dressed in a white linen suit he, along with his wife Grace, has long been a source of fascination for the locals.

Despite having no teaching experience Mr Watts tells the schoolchildren he wants their schoolroom to be ‘a place of light. No matter what happens’. He invites various villagers to come into the classroom and give the children the benefit of their experience but also produces a copy of Dicken's 'Great Expectations' which he reads to them a chapter at a time.

As the book progresses the children are shown the ability of stories to transport us to another world, to Victorian England where they are able to escape the violence and uncertainty of their own lives. Each night the children retell the days reading to their equally engrossed families meaning Pip and his life become increasingly real for them.

Matilda in particular takes Pip to her heart feeling them to be kindred spirits. She too knows about having an absent father. However, her mother, Dolores, is distrustful of Mr Watts questioning the educational value of stories over real-life skills and as a zealous Christian she views Mr Watts and his stories as a subversive, godless, influence on the children, yet almost against her wishes she too is engrossed with the story of Pip.

As the villagers are increasingly exposed to the brutality of the war around them Matilda draws further into the world of Dickens and wonders whether she will have to choose between her mother’s world and Mr Watts’. When soldiers come to village a misunderstanding leads to their leader to believe Pip to be a real person, a spy for the rebels, who the villagers are protecting. The soldiers return on three separate but when the villagers are unable to produce Pip they are subjected to ever increasing brutality with dire consequences for Mr Watts. Matilda will witness loyalty and betrayal, heroism and vengeance, and will be surprised by what she she discovers about the people closest to her.

Short-listed for the 2007 Booker Prize and despite it's brevity, roughly 220 pages, packs a considerable punch. The action comes thick and fast and although the humanising importance of storytelling is the most obvious theme it is certainly not the only one. Colonial and post-colonial attitudes also come to the fore. The rebels are fighting for self-determination against invaders from the capitol. Matilda’s father left the island to seek employment in Australia, an experience that has inevitably changed him whilst Mr Watts’ wife, Grace, herself an islander who returned deeply altered by the outside world. Similarly the missionaries who gave Dolores and her prayer group their unquenchable faith causes them to battle for the heart and mind of Matilda and the other children against a more secular view of the world represented by Mr Watts’. Likewise the now defunct copper mine is seeping pollution into the local environ yet the villagers still miss the income and opportunities that it provided.

By Australian government estimates, the civil war took 15,000-20,000 lives, and was the worst conflict in the Pacific since the Second World War, and yet was barely noticed by the rest of the world but unlike that conflict this book deserves to be more widely read and known. Sometimes the best things come in small packages and this is certainly a little gem ( )
  PilgrimJess | Sep 1, 2019 |
Part fable and part true, set on the island of Bougainville, part of Papua New Guinea during a civil war. Matilda's village is black, except for one white man, Mr. Watts, He decides to educate the children, using Dicken's Great Expectations. Because it's such a treat and doled out in small doses, the story appeals to the children, making Pip almost real. Unfortunately, this has disastrous consequences when the rebel fighters and the red soldiers discover their village. ( )
  nancynova | Apr 10, 2019 |
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones; (5*)

What a beautifully written coming of age story Jones has given us. A lovely, poetic gift from his mind and hand.
The story takes place on a lush tropical Pacific Isle.
The protagonist, Matilda, is the daughter of a native Christian woman and her father has gone to work on the mainland. For a while Matilda believed her mother when she said they would soon follow him but she came to realize that they were never going to leave the island.
Most of the men from the village have gone but there remain many women and children. One of the men, Mr. Watts, who does remain is the only white man in the village. With the teacher gone Mr. Watts decides to take over the teaching of the children. And he decides to begin with his favorite piece of literature: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. He and Matilda quickly come to share a love of this work and the character, Pip, becomes a great part of this story.
Beautifully written, both lyrically and visually, this book took my breath away. Even the horror of a warring army invading this village numerous times and committing atrocities was unable to take my mind off the beauty of this book.
Highly recommended. ( )
  rainpebble | Feb 15, 2019 |
A fantastic read. Set on a Pacific Island, the only white man left, Mr Watts, takes Matilda and her school mates to another world through Great Expectation while a civil war rages around them. Seen from Matilda's point of view, we hear about unspeakable things. This is a moving novel about family, home and self. ( )
  Tifi | Nov 8, 2018 |
94. [Mister Pip] by Lloyd Jones

"I do not know what you are supposed to do with memories like these. It feels wrong to want to forget. Perhaps this is why we write these things down, so we can move on."

In this relatively short novel, we are told the story of what happened in a small island village in Papua New Guinea during the Bougainville Civil War in the early 1990's, from the point of view of Matilda, a 14-year-old girl.

When the story begins, most of the younger men, including Matilda's father, were absent, having left to work in the copper mine years before, or to join the rebels (known as "rambos"). Their island is under a blockade, the PNG army (the "redskins") hoping to force the rebels into submission by cutting off all supplies to the island. No fuel for generators so no electricity; no canned food, no medical supplies; no way to get off the island. All white people, including teachers, had left on the last boat allowed out. All, that is, except one strange white man known as "Pop Eye", who remained, with his equally enigmatic black wife, in the big house formerly occupied by a German minister. Eventually, Pop Eye takes over the children's education, mainly by reading to them from "the greatest novel by the greatest English writer of the nineteenth century", [Great Expectations]; and by asking their parents to visit school and share little life lessons, such as the proper way to kill a pig, how a heart seed grows into a glorious flowering vine, or all about the color blue---"Blue...has magical powers...You watch a reef and tell me if I am lying. Blue crashes onto a reef, and what color does it release? It releases white! Now, how does it do that?" The children learn to call him by his proper name, Mr. Watts, and they respect him while becoming quite engaged with the adventures of Mr. Dickens' orphan, Phillip Pirrip, who came to be called Pip. The war intrudes from time to time--the villagers hear helicopters and watch them flying out to sea where, just before they disappear completely, they turn around and return. It is believed the redskins are taking captured rebels out to sea, and throwing them out of the helicopters. Sometimes the redskins visit the village, looking for rebels. Through the course of the novel the consequences of these visits escalate from inconvenience to destruction to unimaginable horror.

I had trouble seeing where the story was going to lead for a while; I feared it was going to be a “white savior” kind of tale, but it turned out not to be that, except on a superficial level. I had trouble remembering that the narrator was a girl, not a boy, for a good bit of the book. It didn’t really matter most of the time, and I wasn’t sure whether to blame myself or the author for it, but by the time it came to be important in the context of the story, I had programmed my brain to remember. I had no frame of reference for the setting and therefore found it a bit difficult to form a true picture of the villagers and how they fit into the 20th century, so I had to go outside the book to educate myself. As the book was first published in Australia, I assume its primary audience in 2006 was more familiar with the underlying politics and history. The thrust of the novel is the methods people use cope with hardship and tragedy...faith, denial, escape through the imagination...and how one fictional character’s experience gave both Pop Eye and Matilda permission to change their lives. Powerful and worthwhile.

“...you know, Matilda, you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets the breathe.” ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Oct 31, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 163 (next | show all)
Jones covered it as a journalist, and this delicate fable never shies away from the realities of daily life shadowed by violence..... In this dazzling story-within-a-story, Jones has created a microcosm of post-colonial literature, hybridising the narratives of black and white races to create a new and resonant fable. On an island split by war, it is a story that unites....There is a fittingly dreamy, lyrical quality to Jones's writing, along with an acute ear for the earthy harmonies of village speech... Mister Pip is the first of Jones's six novels to have travelled from his native New Zealand to the UK. It is to be hoped that it won't be the last.
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lloyd Jonesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hyllienmark, OlovTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riera, ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Characters migrate.' Umberto Eco
To my family
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Everyone called him Pop Eye.
"...you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames." (page 155)"
"A Prayer was like a tickle. Sooner or later God would have to look down to see what was tickling his bum."
I do not know what you are supposed to do with memories likes these. It feels wrong to want to forget. Perhaps this is why we write these things down, so we can move on."
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'You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.'

Bougainville. 1991. A small village on a lush tropical island in the South Pacific. Eighty-six days have passed since Matilda's last day of school as, quietly, war is encroaching from the other end of the island.

When the villagers' safe, predictable lives come to a halt, Bougainville's children are surprised to find the island's only white man, a recluse, re-opening the school. Pop Eye, aka Mr Watts, explains he will introduce the children to Mr Dickens. Matilda and the others think a foreigner is coming to the island and prepare a list of much needed items. They are shocked to discover their acquaintance with Mr Dickens will be through Mr Watts' inspiring reading of Great Expectations.

But on an island at war, the power of fiction has dangerous consequences. Imagination and beliefs are challenged by guns. Mister Pip is an unforgettable tale of survival by story; a dazzling piece of writing that lives long in the mind after the last page is finished.
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1921145579, 1921520248

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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